This article originally appeared in the East Hampton Patch.
There was no denying the challenge facing East Hampton heading into Friday night’s girls’ basketball game against Coginchaug.
The Bellringers, struggling through the early portion of their schedule, finally got to play at home, but in their way stood the defending Shoreline champions and a favorite to win the league title again this season.
So, it came as no surprise that the Blue Devils won, 59-26. The question was, would East Hampton (1-4) improve on its overall performance from the previous two games, both lopsided losses.
“I can work with the effort I got tonight,” East Hampton coach Shaun Russell said. “We had a handful of what I’ll call very lazy, timid mistakes turnover-wise with the ball, cross-court passes, things that were soft, soft catches … that can be fixed. What we have to correct, which we took a big step toward correcting tonight, was giving the effort required to be successful over the course of the game. I thought kid-for-kid tonight, I got it from them at some point. I can work with this effort. This effort can get you places down the road.”
The Bellringers offense, an issue through the first four games, was more active and as a result, created better looks at the basket. A good sign moving forward.
“I thought tonight every good shot we got was on ball reversal, an extra pass in the offense,” Russell said. “That’s the kind of team we have to be. We can’t survive trying to create offense. We don’t have that kind of talent at the moment. If we can be patient enough and grind some things out, tonight I thought we had several lengthy possessions ... our first four games we were nowhere near that level of execution.”
East Hampton’s defense also held its own in the halfcourt. Where the Bellringers had trouble, though, was handling Coginchaug’s pressure defense. The mistakes Russell spoke of often resulted in fastbreak points by the Blue Devils.
Leading 15-4 heading into the second quarter, Coginchaug (5-0) went on a 13-0 run to take command of the game. Five of the baskets were a result of steals.
“Our offense tonight, we were able to score points, but not off of our half-court set,” Coginchaug coach Rett Mancinelli said. “So, that’s something we’re going to continue to work on. Everybody knows that’s our game, we try to play up tempo, and we have to be able to handle playing fast and slow.”
Playing fast worked plenty well enough Friday night.
With two returning first-team All-Shoreline players in Audrey Biesak and Sam Mancinelli, and honorable mention Lauren Esposito, expectations are high for the Blue Devils this season and the coach doesn’t seem to mind.
“Coginchaug has been working hard at getting better and being a good team and we want to be a good team,” Rett Mancinelli said, adding that the Shoreline is a tough conference. “There’s no pressure with that at all. We want to be considered one of the better teams in the league. That’s one of our goals.”
After consecutive 17-3 regular seasons, the community has taken notice as well.
“We do see a lot of people from the community, not just students, but just people in the community that have no children playing,” Mancinelli said. “They just enjoy coming out and watching a good game of basketball. We really appreciate that. And the girls know that. They know that they are there, that people are coming out to see them play and they want to give them a good basketball game to watch.”
Coginchaug took a 30-11 lead into halftime and continued to methodically pull away in the second half. Ashley Chasse had a couple of three-pointers in the second half for East Hampton, but whenever the Bellringers showed glimpses of offense, the Blue Devils had plenty of answers. In all, 10 Blue Devils scored. Biesak, who scored her 1,000th point on Tuesday, and Esposito, led the way with 10 each. Mancinelli scored eight.
For East Hampton, Chasse had seven points and Sarah Denihan added five.
Despite the disparity in the score, not all was lost.
“There are things I can build on,” Russell said. “I do like the effort. I do like the intensity. This was a big challenge game for us. Matchups were rough. We made some adjustments in the zone prior to today’s game specifically for this opponent and I liked what I saw. Adrianna [Zawodniak] is getting better and better, learning how to be in the right spots. So happy for Ashley and Sarah tonight, to see them make some shots they normally make in the flow of the offense on the extra pass, on the good ball reversals. Do any of us want to be going into Christmas 1-4? No, obviously not. But that’s where we are, this is what we are, we’ve accepted it now, and now we can start working on the leaks and the cracks and tonight was a good step. Practice has not been an issue. They’re playing their butts off and they’re trying. At this point now we have to start holding each other accountable for execution and production. Trying is not enough at this point.”
Having lost to Coginchaug, Portland and Cromwell, arguably the three top teams in the Shoreline, and an up-and-coming Hyde team, it’s too soon to get an accurate read on East Hampton. The schedule will be kinder starting next week, but that alone won’t guarantee any wins.
“None of us should be satisfied where we’re at,” Russell said. “It’s up to us to change it. I think we have the right approach to try and do it.”
Russell hopes the Christmas break will work to his team’s advantage, giving the girls a chance to focus on basketball. Their next game will be Tuesday at home in the Liberty Bank Holiday Tournament against Amistad Academy at 6 p.m.
“Hopefully we can slowly but surely turn the corner to the point where, when we get some opponents that we’ve got some more favorable matchups, we can make some hay and that we can be there when it counts at the end of games,” he said.